Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy reading days.

You are supposed to read in the summer, aren't you? I have recently finished three books: La vie devant soi by Romain Gary, Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and Frihetens øyeblikk by Jens Bjørneboe (part one of the trilogy). I recommend all three. The French book is very sweet (see quotes from it in this post), and I really enjoyed it all the way through. It's a lovely book about the "difficult variant" of life seen from the eyes of a child. When he finds out that he isn't really that young, he accordingly starts viewing things differently, just because, and throughout the book you get these wise little insights about just sucking it up and accepting things as they are. When you are used to living in a certain way, you don't perceive yourself as a victim even though others may do so, and I think you should be rather careful about patronizing other people just because you wouldn't be able to handle what they handle daily.

Cat's cradle is a rather absurd book, an insane story about the end of the world, or about two ends of the world. I really like how Vonnegut has just abandoned all rules of probability of such things and has gone ahead and written something that is truly fiction, where anything is allowed. It's a really quick read, and very amusing, and I guess a class on literature could analyze this book to bits. I'm rather curious about Vonnegut's view on religion, because this could be seen as a satire on religion, illustrating how random they are, and how weak human beings are. I guess it could be many things though. I won't speculate any further.

"One of the oldest games there is, cat’s cradle. Even the Eskimos know it.”
“You don’t say.”
“For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children’s faces. “
Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look апd look at all those X’s …”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”

I also wanted to provide those who understand any Scandinavian language with an extract from Frihetens Øyeblikk. The book is rather hard to describe, but it's kind of the autobiography of a man who is writing... the history of man, seen in a different light. He keeps a "protocol" (on everything) when he is sober enough to know what he is doing while traveling around the world (or Europe) - he sees things and he notes things down. The book is mostly just bits and pieces of his experience of the world, of his alcoholism, of the people he meets, of the stories he hears and in general bits and pieces of the awful nature of men. This extract is from the beginning of the book, and I find it absolutely excellent. It really illustrates the rest of the book.


Folket her i dalen kan neppe sies å være oppfylt av Den Hellige Ånd. Under synet av de umåtelige fjelltoppene og de evige snebreene har de ikke vokset til storhet. De tenker ikke vidsynte og klare tanker. Folket her, i landsbyene, i dalen eller nede på vertshuset hvor jeg vanker og drikker mine daglige glemselens glass,- det er et folk uten sang, uten folklore, musikk, dans. De har sine kapeller, men ingen religion. Samtidig er de på sin måte skarpsindige, nesten intelligente. De er listige. De bor i sin dal, og de har fjellene og evigheten omkring seg. Av og til tenker de. Man kan se det på øynene deres. Da regner de. De legger sammen eller subtraherer i hodet. De aller listigste multipliserer eller kan til og med dividere. Folket her er sant å si – ja, for å si sannheten: på sett og vis, delvis, på sin måte, og til en viss grad, temmelig lemurisk.
Når de leser, da er det ikke Kabbala eller Vedaene eller salmer de studerer. De leser sine bankbøker. Eller til nød sine lover, - for å vite hva de kan tillate seg mot sin nabo. Alle er i strid med alle, men allikevel holder de på en underlig måte sammen. Det er et lemurisk samhold. De har frembragt dommere og til og med leger. For ikke å nevne overingeniører. Men de hviler ikke ut ved å lese Dante.

Som sagt har de ingen folklore.

Allikevel – de er med på å opprettholde verdens likevekt og be- stand. De er en flokk små, lodne bjørner.

Det finnes absolutt ingen uskyld i dem. De er istand til å gjøre hva som helst mot et medmenneske. Samtidig er de veldige skiløpere, og om vinteren lar de seg trekke oppfor fjellsidene med stålwirer, høyt opp, - derpå sklir de nedfor fjellsidene helt til bunnen av dalen. Dette gjør de om igjen og om igjen. De holder på i uker og måneder – opp og ned – opp og ned. Og de har sin glede av det, men de er ikke glade.


I also thought I should provide a quote from the German book I'm reading, Feuchtgebiete by Charlotte Roche, just to illustrate the difference in genre.

Ich würde mit jedem Idioten ins Bett gehen, damit ich nicht alleine im Bett sein oder sogar eine ganze lange Nacht alleine schlafen muss. Jeder ist besser als keiner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Women and literature.

In discussions with people about literature, I have often encountered the question, or the remark followed by a question, that women have played a very small role in world literature, and why is this? There is often an implication of women's lack of literary quality or talent. We needn't even mention the fact that differences in education and upbringing are extremely influential here (oddly enough, most people I have spoken to seem to have very little knowledge about such matters in the past), we can just jump to the forgotten women. The number of productive women was naturally much smaller than that of productive men since most women were busy giving birth to children and raising those children, but those women that did actually produce something are often not even mentioned. Even I haven't heard about many of the women I am now reading about for my summer class in Women's History, which perhaps stresses the importance of this branch of history (which is often questioned and made out to be irrelevant and uninteresting).

Reading the books I am supposed to read, listening to the lectures from the University, I have all of a sudden been seized by the desire to learn Latin! Latin has never before interested me, but I would very much enjoy being able to read texts from the middle ages written by women who were successful enough to actually be remembered up until this day, even though they may often be neglected, but that is another matter. I did not know for example, that the nun Hrotsvitha was the one who reintroduced the drama in the West in the 10th century, and that she didn't only write one play, but that actually three books have been preserved to this day. I had no idea that she was also the one who reintroduced the Faust myth!

Another interesting woman was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), another nun (back in those days, being a nun was a good alternative to getting married, since you could then educate yourself and actually become someone, but this was made more and more difficult from the ninth century onwards when misogyny started kicking in, and up until this point, there were several very important women that helped build up Christianity) wrote the world's first opera, as well as numerous plays, but also books on medicine, zoology, botany, geology, all in all 14 works that belonged to the most important scientific writings of the middle age.

A woman that is sometimes given the role of having written the world's first novel is a Japanese noblewoman, the author of The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu (early 11th century). This lady is not part of my class it seems like, at least not yet, and that may have something to do with Eurocentrism...

Troubadours could also be mentioned, because there were actually quite a number of female ones. All in all, approximately 400 troubadours are known today (by name that is), and among those there is for example Marie de France, the Countess of Dia, Lombarda, Castelloza and Bieris of Romans, etc, (and a bunch of nameless women). While studying French, we went through troubadours, but the only female name that sounds familiar to me is Marie de France. As one of my books point out, the female troubadours never wrote anything about man's bravery in honor of ladies, which was otherwise a popular theme. Their depictions of love is considered to be more realistic and sensual, even though in many aspects their works are similar to their male colleagues' works. I was trying to find an English version of a poem from my book, the name of it should be "Alais, Iselda and Carenza", but I wasn't very successful. I wanted to share it because I found it rather amusing, but there is probably little point in sharing it in Swedish... However, in searching for it, I found this page which may be of interest to anyone interested in female troubadours. I am intent on reading it clear when I have finished the things I actually have to read for my class. It's in French.

Most people probably recognize the name Christine de Pizan (1365-1434), who made a living out of writing and who was the only person who wrote about Joan of Arc at that time, besides from her writings the only things that are preserved about Joan are protocols from the trials. Christine also instigated a debate about women that would last for 200 years, la Querelle des Femmes.

What I am also learning, and which is very interesting, is that the Renaissance isn't necessarily a positive period of time in all aspects. From a male perspective, it is, but for women it generally meant reduced freedom and being dumbed down, and we mustn't forget the witch hunts (in which 40,000 to 100,000 women were executed, at least according to Wikipedia), which could either be said to belong in the middle ages, or in the Renaissance. The "Hammer of witches" was written in 1487 by two monks from the Dominican Inquisition, and following this any woman who did not meekly sit by and act chastely could be considered by witch. I'm thinking that this is no point in time when you choose to raise your voice as a woman (even though Christine de Pizan actually did this earlier, protesting that if woman was as vile as she was made out to be by some of the men of the church, then why on earth would God have made her?). The Reformation and counterreformation weren't either all that positive for women.

To sum things up, we could go back even to the time before Christianity and nuns, and remember Sapho, who wrote a large number of poems and who was actually famous in her own time (she lived around 650 B.C., and 300 living conditions for women in the antique world started getting more restrictive). Not Sapho is actually one of those women who are mentioned today, so I won't say anything more about her.

I better stop now, but there are many more individuals that could be mentioned. And I find all of this very fascinating! If women had nothing to do in literature in earlier times, then why do they constantly pop up as the instigators of this and that genre?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Russian blogs. Blogs in Russian.

Every time people mention how they have increased the amount of foreign language input they get from their blogs (the ones they read that is) I always think that, hey, that's a great idea, but I never do anything about it. Because looking for blogs can be tiresome and I try to avoid browsing as much as possible. However, there is The Forum, where there are people who can recommend things. I finally decided to add some Russian blogs to my blog roll, so I asked for some recommendations from the fellow language enthusiasts on the forum. Lindley recommended some Russian blogs, and through them I found some others. All of a sudden I'm reading much more Russian, and I'm writing a little bit more as well since the blogs are very interesting and I often have something to say on them :-) I have posted these links on the forum as well, they (and other links) can be found here, but I thought I would crosspost it on the blog as well.
- I don't think this blog is about any language in particular, and I haven't read that many old posts yet, but it looks very good! - this blog seems to deal with Esperanto, but also with language related things in general, and it seems to be updated very regularly. It also looks very interesting.
- quite a lot about English!

I can't remember how I found this blog, but I find it amusing: - "a blog for women, and for men who understand them" - a blog with lots of short articles about... just about anything related to beauty, health and so on.

And I gladly accept recommendations for more blogs! (As long as it's not about English.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Since it's a rarity.

Swedish music in Swedish, that is. This is not a new artist (Lars Winnerbäck, here together with Miss Li), but for some reason I have never listened to him until now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hungarian resources.

This here is mostly a motivational post for myself (if there is such a thing as a book fetishist, I'm one of them) since I don't think very many of the people who read my blog are interested in Hungarian. It's a resource post and I will discuss the materials have for Hungarian; what books are use and what books I don't use. It may be of general interest as well, even if you are not interested in Hungarian.

Let's start with vocabulary. I visited Hungary, or Budapest that is, in the summer of 2008, and before that I had never really thought about studying Hungarian. It kind of felt like too much of an opportunity to miss to not buy materials while I was there though, and once having bought these books, I just had to start studying it. I bought the dictionaries, the big ones and a small one (and then before leaving Budapest, the friend of my boyfriend, who was studying medicine in Budapest, gave me the "Say It in Hungarian" and another mini dictionary). I also bought the flashcards and the dictionary with pictures, but I haven't used these much. I used the flashcards in the beginning, but then I switched to using Anki.

Of course, you need some grammar! I only bought the PONS books in Hungary, and oh how I regret not buying a verb book with full declension of verbs. It would really be useful to have a "500 Hungarian verbs" kind of book. There is the site HVC, but in order to use that one, you have to be sure you are using the correct verb stem. I got my Assimil from a friend in France, and I think I did 40 or 60 or so (no idea really :P) lessons in it, but the book kind of annoyed me sometimes (it's quite misogynic) and as usual, I got bored with it... right now I'm using an all Hungarian book called Lépésenként magyarul, which I only have as a PDF. I prefer this book, but I use it rather slowly, since I work with many other things besides workbooks.

I just got my blue Hungarian grammar book the other day, and I really love it. I am going to index it completely and read it from page 1... to 300 and something. I have a big fat book of Russian grammar as well, but it has never really tempted me that much to lay down in bed and flip through it. Just no fun, and that grammar book is... actually rather boring. I really like this Routledge one though, I think it's very nicely made and it's pleasant to read.

The book "Hungarian verbs and essentials of grammar" was just a book I bought because it was cheap, and because I couldn't find anything else that seemed to deal with verbs specifically. It's really rather useless though, it's way too shallow. It could be useful as just a quick reference, but if you're going to buy a book anyway, go for the blue one.

By the way, I really like how it says on the PONS books "comprehensive and user friendly" and "easy" while the guy on the cover is hiding on every book :D I haven't used the noun-declension tables book yet, it's actually rather intimidating and so far I have managed without it. I figure it may become useful when I get better at Hungarian though.

I am dreaming of getting the book Gyakorló magyar because it has exercises in it (that kind of stuff is difficult to find for Hungarian), and overall I like the site Magyaróra, which is where it comes from. With a bit of luck, my colleague will be able to find it when he goes to Budapest in a couple of weeks.

Naturally, I had to buy some literature while in Hungary! Since I didn't know anything at all about Hungarian literature back then, I bought stuff that I recognized, translations of works I had previously read. That's why there is some Jane Austen and Emily Brontë in there :-) I also bought the Montgomery book, because I thought it would be a nice steppingstone between children's literature and full-grown adult literature, but actually it's very difficult. I am also reading Jane Eyre in Hungarian, but for that one I am cheating. I only have it as a text document, but fortunately, it's a dual language text, Hungarian and English. I'm not sure how much I have read so far, but quite a couple of pages and I really like it, plus I already know the story. I have started reading Ciróka and Anne az élet iskolájaban, but as I mentioned, the second one is very difficult. Én es a fiam is actually a Swedish book that I found in the online catalog of a secondhand bookshop in my hometown. I sent my mother there to buy it, and then she sent it to me. The author, Sara Lidman, is from the same place as my grandmother (in the depths of Lapland), and she writes rather weird books sometimes. Wrote. She's dead now.

Buying books in Hungary was rather funny, because everything was so cheap. When I came to pay, the cashier seemed quite embarrassed to tell me the total sum and was a bit anxious about my bank card and if it would work out and so on. Little did she know that what I paid for all of the books was more or less the equal of what I would have paid for the dictionaries alone in Norway!

Besides from these books, I also use a couple of other resources. I haven't used the FSI easy reader in a long time now, but it's a very good resource and the text are actually very good. I am also going to try to read more news articles now, in order to acquire some "useful" vocabulary. Lang-8 is, as usual, perhaps my most important resource, together with Anki.

So that's it. I have probably forgotten about something, I usually do, but I do like having an overview of the stuff I have, or else I end up never using it because the books just disappear among the several hundreds I have in my bookshelves. Now, I'm going to get back to lesson six of Lépésenként magyarul.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ça a l'air très bien.

Même si je lis déjà trois ou quatre livres, j'ai commencé un nouveau aujourd'hui. Il me fallait quelque chose des léger, littéralement quelque chose qui ne pesait pas très lourd parce que je voulais le lire dans la baignoire. Donc j'ai choisi un petit livre de poche que j'ai acheté en France il y a cinq ans, La Vie Devant Soi de Romain Gary (un russe qui est venu en France à l'âge de 14 ans en 1914). J'en suis déjà très enchantée ! C'est un livre marrant, et déjà sur les premières pages, j'ai trouvé tout cela :

(Le livre commence avec l'histoire d'un enfant de six ou sept ans, et la langue reflète cela. Il vit chez Madame Rosa avec six autres enfants, pour la plupart des enfants de prostituées.)

Je devais avoir trois ans quand j'ai vu Madame Rosa pour la première fois. Avant, on n'a pas de mémoire et on vit dans l'ignorance. J'ai cessé d'ignorer à l'âge de trois ou quatre ans et parfois ça me manque.


Monsieur Hamil a de beaux yeux qui font du bien autour de lui. Il était déjà très vieux quand je l'ai connu et depuis il n'a fait que vieillir.


Pendant longtemps, je n'ai pas su que j'étais arabe parce que personne ne m'insultait. On me l'а seulement appris à l'école.


— Tu sais ce que c'est, une putain ?
— C'est des personnes qui se défendent avec leur cul.
— Je me demande où tu as appris des horreurs pareilles, mais il y a beaucoup de vérité dans ce que tu dis.
— Vous aussi, vous vous êtes défendue avec votre cul. Madame Rosa, quand vous étiez jeune et belle ?
Elle a souri, ça lui faisait plaisir d'entendre qu'elle avait été jeune et belle.


Il y avait sur le trottoir d'en face un môme qui avait un ballon et qui m'avait dit que sa mère venait toujours quand il avait mal au ventre. J'ai eu n al au ventre mais ça n'a rien donné et ensuite j'ai eu des convulsions, pour rien aussi. J'ai même chié partout dans l'appartement pour plus de remarque. Rien. Ma mère n'est pas venue et Madame Rosa m'a traité de cul d'Arabe pour la première fois, car elle n'était pas française. Je lui hurlais que je voulais voir ma mère et pendant des semaines j'ai continué à chier partout pour me venger. Madame Rosa a fini par me dire que si je continuais c'était l'Assistance publique et là j'ai eu peur, parce que l'Assistance publique c'est la première chose qu'on apprend aux enfants. J'ai continué à chier pour le principe mais ce n'était pas une vie. On était alors sept enfants de putes en pension chez Madame Rosa et ils se sont tous mis à chier à qui mieux mieux car il n'y a rien de plus conformiste que les mômes et il y avait tant de caca partout que je passais inaperçu là-dedans.


Sinon, je suis en train de lire un livre norvégien, un genre de de livre-culte qui a rencontré des problèmes quand il (en fait c'est une trilogie, mais bon...) est sorti dans les années 60. La trilogie s'appelle « L'Histoire De La Bestialité » (auteur: Jens Bjørneboe) et jusque-là, ça parle de la nature des « petits ours », c'est-à-dire des humains, et c'est pas beau ! Par contre, c'est plutôt génial ;)

Monday, June 7, 2010


The other day I saw a movie that I liked very much on Swedish television. It was the Norwegian movie "Reprise", and unfortunately I missed the beginning. It's a movie about a group of young, intellectual men, and their attempts at writing literature and living in general. One of them (who could perhaps be called the main main character, out of two) writes a book that gets published and is declared a genius, but then meets a girl, and when falling in love with her, his mental breakdown is triggered. This is kind of the background setting for the development of the other main character as well, who strives to get published and still be supportive of his friend.

I was very impressed with this movie. It's delightfully made, the actors are great and the excellent narrative technique even adds a bit humor every once in a while, even though this is a rather sad movie. Still, it's not a depressing one, and it's actually hard to actually say what kind of movie it is. I found it to be uplifting and inspiring, but I suspect not everyone would share that opinion.

One of the characters I especially liked was the very serious and super intellectual Hitler Jugend looking Lars (who is later in the movie nicknamed "Porn-Lars", which is just incredibly perfect since it clashes completely with the nature of his character) who thinks that women are unable of intellectual achievements, that they are just creatures that can be filled up with knowledge by men, but can never think anything up on their own. His comment about how women in the eastern part of Oslo (the poorer part where all the immigrants live, and kind of where I live as well) at least acknowledge their inferiority and don't pretend to participate in the conversations of the "grown-ups" is excellent.

Here is an article about the movie (in Norwegian) and a scene from it.

Everyone with an interest in "intellectual" movies, that is slow ones without any extreme drama or action, should definitely watch this one. It kind of made me think of a book that I (along with everyone who has ever read it I guess) am a huge fan of: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Are there any other books or movies that deal with groups of intellectual (and sometimes decadent) young people?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Unfolding of Language.

I finished reading this book yesterday, and I'm always happy to add another language related book to my list of finished books. Most of them end up in a pile, waiting patiently while I read what's on the curriculum for whatever class I'm taking :-) When people recommend books to me, I tend to read them somewhat quicker though.

I very much enjoyed this book, but I have a couple of complaints to make.

The book mainly deals with different structures in languages and tries to explain how they could have come about. For example, where does the Arabic verb stem system come from? Why are small, isolated languages so incredibly complex? Why do all languages seem to have been more perfect in the past? And so on. Very interesting questions, and the book is very nicely written, with amusing examples. However, at the end there are a couple of appendixes that just seems to be stuff that wouldn't fit in the normal chapters, and I think it makes the book feel a bit unstructured. I also didn't feel like it really had an end. It just ended, but it could probably have gone forever, since he could have continued explaining similar things for hundreds of pages.

What is worse though, is that all of a sudden in the book there is a very long discussion between a linguist (I think) and a moron. The linguist tries to explain how words can shift from one category to another (like from noun to preposition) and the moron refuses to understand. I just couldn't wait until that discussion was over, only to discover it was taken up again in one of the appendixes. It really annoyed me, and it kind of made my impression of the book a bit more negative than necessary.

However, I do recommend it to anyone interested in languages! It's written for people without any extensive linguistic expertise, so it's also the kind of book you can bring to the beach. If you go to the beach. I personally prefer my balcony.